Two of the most basic punctuation marks the period and the comma, provide structure to sentences while also controlling the flow of your words. When it comes to pacing, these two punctuation marks act as navigational devices that tell your readers when to come to a complete stop or when to take a short rest before moving on. Think of the period as a stop sign and the comma as a park bench.
The Stop Sign
We all know how to use a period, right? Periods end sentences. However, overusing periods leads to choppiness while underusing them can lead to excessively long, hard-to-follow sentences. For example, look at the paragraph below and notice how choppy the text feels.
Stacy wanted a pony. This pony was cute. The blaze on his forehead made Stacy smile. She hoped her dad would buy him. Last year he promised. Stacy hugged the pony. She looked up at her dad. He was smiling, too.
On the other hand, if this text was composed of excessively long sentences, it becomes hard to follow as shown below:
Stacy wanted a pony, her father had promised last year, and the one with the blaze on his forehead was so cute that he made Stacy smile and hope that her dad would finally agree to buy the pony that she was currently hugging.
Finding the right balance of periods helps the text flow, making it easier to read.
Stacy wanted a pony and the one with a blaze on his forehead was the one. She couldn’t help but smile as she hugged the pony and hoped that her father would finally agree. After promising last year, today her father was also smiling.
The Park Bench
An excessively long sentence often benefits from the inclusion of a strategically placed comma, a park bench if you will, that entices the reader to pause for a brief moment before continuing down the path toward the end of the sentence. When faced with a long sentence, readers appreciate this resting stop. The comma gives readers a chance to absorb the words before moving on.
A comma provides much needed relief, but you most be careful not to overuse this punctuation mark. You wouldn’t want to stop and rest at every park bench as you walk through a pads, would you? Overusing commas leads to excessive stopping and slows your writing down. Look at the following sentence and notice the overabundance of stopping points.
Walking, or jogging, through the park, the one with the old, but beautiful, carousel down by the river, is a delightful, and free, way to spend time with your kids, friends or even your dog, on a hot summer afternoon.
Excessive commas distract, often diverting the reader’s attention to secondary points. In the example above, the overabundance of commas makes for excessive stopping while also making it difficult for the reader to figure out what’s being said. The reader most filter through all of the pauses to finally come to the conclusion that “Walking through the riverfront park is delightful”. If you tend to overuse commas, your key points could be lost or diminished by asides, descriptions and other less important elements of your sentences.
Periods and commas are tools used for controlling the pace of your writing. When you want to create a sense of urgency, short sentences help. Like this. On the other hand, longer sentences tend to slow the pace, especially when a few commas such as this set, are strategically included. Vary the flow of short vs. long sentences to reduce repetition and add effective emphasis. Learn more variations of sentence structures at https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/573/01/ and prevent monotonous content for your readers.
Understanding how periods and commas affect the flow of your text as well as the negative effects of over or underuse is an essential insight that will serve you and your readers well.